April/May 1994, Page 33
Myths and Facts
(In refuting myths about the Middle East, sometimes one doesn't have to look beyond the media that help perpetuate them.)
Is There a "Moral Difference" Between Israeli and Palestinian "Terrorism"?
Myth: "The world is not content to judge Goldstein. It is judging Israel because of Goldstein. Yet what, in fact, is the moral difference between Israeli and Palestinian terrorism? For Israel, it is a matter of shame. For the Palestinians it is a matter of policy."
—Columnist Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, March 4, 1994
Fact: "There's no doubt that the revulsion, shame and concern expressed by Rabin's government and most Israelis over that atrocity are genuine and deep. The fact remains that the government has yet to take measures appropriate to the basic threat raised by a militant Israeli minority not just against the safety of Palestinians, but against the government's own peace policy ... It's no secret that the most militant among Israel's 120,000 settlers—like the most militant in the Palestinian camp—are eager to wreck the peace process. The Rabin government is courting grief if it doesn't move quickly to neutralize this sedition."
—Los Angeles Times editorial, March 3, 1994
Was Goldstein Temporarily Insane?
Myth: "Last Thursday night, during a Purim service at the Tomb of Abraham, [Goldstein] heard, along with many others, the cries of Arabs in the mosque next door. 'Etback el Yahud—kill the Jews.' Many of Goldstein's friends feel that this pushed him over the edge. The next morning he rose at dawn and went to the mosque and killed those he thought were going to kill him."
—Rabbi David Elizrie, Director of the National Conference on Jewish and Contemporary Law, Yorba Linda, CA, in Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1994
Fact: "[Goldstein] was not searched. Israeli army guards did not ask why he was wearing his army doctor's uniform, although he was widely known as one of the cave meshuggenah, or 'crazies'—settlers who had continuously harassed Arabs inside the tomb's mosque ... Goldstein was a leading activist in Kach, the Jewish extremist group whose symbol is a clenched fist and whose members believe Arabs have to be expelled from Israel and the West Bank ... The Israeli army had responsibility for keeping the peace. According to a military source with direct personal experience, 'The army's main purpose was to maintain the status quo and maintain this delicate balance of rights. It's hard to understand how fanatic they can be about centimeters.'
"For example, he said, a strip of the large hall, facing east to Mecca, is reserved exclusively for Muslims. But when the militant Jewish settlers come to pray on Friday night, they get rights to another part of the large hall. The more militant Kach members often take their chairs, he said, land push them right to the edge of the carpet. And if one leg is actually on the carpet, it's a victory. Each centimeter has gained them a lot. It comes down to centimeters and minutes.'
"The Muslims complained constantly to the Israeli soldiers about infractions. On Oct. 16, the Islamic Higher Council and the Islamic Waqf, which oversee holy sites, sent a letter to Rabin complaining that a settler identified as 'Baruch' attacked the muezzin, who was calling Muslims to prayer, and 'poured flammable materials, on the mosque carpet. According to the military source, the harassment and retaliation was nonstop ... According to Yatom, the Israeli commander, 'It was not something extraordinary or unusual to see this doctor, who was well known by, the soldiers, wearing his military reserve uniform and carrying his rifle."'
—Correspondent David Hoffman, Washington Post, March 1, 1994
Are Israelis Morally Superior?
Myth: "The idea of 'extremists on both sides' leads to that tired old sleight—of—hand known as moral equivalence, as common: place by now as this year's snows. Equivalence is quantification, and of a peculiarly dimwitted sort. Follow it and see where it takes you ... How many Arab states are parliamentary democracies? How many official Israeli—sponsored movements are dedicated to the violent dismantling of any sovereign nation? Totting up, in the name of equating the worst of 'both sides,' catapults us into the absurd. "
—Cynthia Ozick, New York Times, March 21 1994
Fact: "Israel may agree to international peacekeepers in the territories, but the measures taken by the government on Sunday—the arrest of five militant Jews and some sanctions against settlers—are totally insufficient because they are too mild to convince Israelis that all kinds of racist and bloodthirsty agitations will be banned and suppressed with an iron fist ... We have long been familiar with Jews who incite violence. They are the people who, unlike Islamic fundamentalist agitators, have not been deported (nor will they be) or had their homes destroyed or sealed up. But I see no difference between these Jews and Hamas or Islamic Jihad: they do all that is within their power to prevent the Israel-Arab war from being resolved through compromise; they do all they can to turn it into a religious war between Judaism and Islam, until the very last drop of blood has been shed.
"This murderer and the extremists behind him did exactly what Hamas and Islamic Jihad hoped for. And Hamas and Islamic Jihad do exactly what the Jewish zealots expect ... Politicians, from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to leaders of the country's right, expressed all kinds of outrage and fury. Aharon Domb, a spokesman for the settlers, while not praising the 'grave action,' said he was able to understand the motives for it. Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau, too, renounced the 'shedding of blood' but evaded using the word ,murder'—perhaps because the murdered were not Jews.
"It is difficult to avoid asking ... a question that is neither an Israeli—Palestinian one nor a dovish—hawkish one, but a question of morals between Jews and other Jews. Why were the chief rabbi and other observant Jews content to use the word 'bloodshed' instead of calling a murder a murder?"
—Israeli author Amos Oz, New York Times, March 1, 1994